How do we lead, build resilience in ourselves and our teams – and take care of ourselves in the process? These are some of the themes we discussed during a recent webinar I held on self-care and leading with resilience, with staff from the health practice at The Palladium Group. In our 90-minute webinar, we started by reflecting on our leadership, exercising emotional intelligence by conducting an energy audit, and talked about some simple yet powerful strategies to build resilience and self-care, using a number of quick, easy and powerful practices to build our capacity.

Since we all need resilience and self-care, I thought readers might find it useful to see some of the themes we explored, and share some tools and techniques that will help us all to navigate this ‘triple pandemic’ of Covid-19, social injustice and economic insecurity that we are all living.

Our leadership just got EVEN bigger…

‘You can be a leader as a parent, spouse, friend or citizen’. Ken Blanchard

Traditional models of leadership focus on roles and formal authority. However, leadership has evolved, focusing on influencing processes, and those critical relationships between people across levels. If we think of leadership more broadly as a process of positively influencing and encouraging others to achieve common goals – we can see that we are all leading, and we have many opportunities to do so. This is also an important moment for more collaborative models of leadership that focus on service.

The pandemic has amplified our leadership. We’ve exercised incredible communication, influence, visioning, agility and change management as we’ve organised our ourselves, our families, and our workplaces into lockdown. We’re also exercising our emotional intelligence as we build trust, demonstrate integrity, encourage, support our families, friends, colleagues and communities as we move through lockdown and into a ‘new normal’. We’ve also seen our own children show leadership in self-education, looking after siblings, and creating new routines and rules. Every one of us is leading, as we continue to innovate, support others and manage relationships.

Leading with resilience

Resilience has many meanings, ranging from the ability to bounce back from minor setbacks to growing as a result of tragedy or trauma. Pemberton says resilience is ‘The capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors when faced by a life disruption, or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser, and more able’ (2015:2).

Resilience involves moving forward with a new viewpoint, and even different values gained from learning and experience – more resourced for whatever faces us in future. It is an important skill for us personally and professionally – and for our staff and the organisation we work for.

We also know that resilience is a vital leadership skill particularly during times of crisis. In practice, leaders need to encourage, reassure, and help staff, family, groups, societies and countries to be resilient. It’s about bringing trust, optimism and hope in order to create enthusiasm and momentum for the future, as well as to promote, growth, learning, and risk-taking. Resilience doesn’t protect us from setbacks; it helps us to manage setbacks with confidence.

Given the current crises, resilience is even more important. So, here are some ways to build resilience in yourself and your team.

1. Celebrate success and focus on the positive

Identify and share the positive – what went well today? Celebrating successes, praising efforts (including your own), is a way to create and spread uplifting moments for you and others. When you are feeling positive and in a good mood, the neurotransmitter dopamine enhances learning, motivation, and attention. Humour and laughter are also wonderful mood enhancers. Research tells us it releases endorphins in our body that relieve pain and increase pleasure.

What can you do as an individual?

  • Discuss and share what has gone well recently – at work or home.
  • Share times of joy and laughter – like your funniest experience in lockdown.
  • Share best lessons or learning experiences with the children.
  • Talk about your best conversations ever – and what made them so.

What can you do as a leader/organisation?

  • Share how people are adapting well to new ways of working (feature this in a newsletter or on your intranet).
  • Share positive/ good news stories about what your organisation is doing to respond to the crisis.
  • Be intentionally positive and celebrate successes.

All of this builds your positivity muscle while uplifting yourself and others. It also helps to develop resilience.


2. Acts of kindess and helping others

‘Be kinder to yourself. And then let the kindness flood the world.’ Pema Chodron

A brilliant way of improving your wellbeing and reducing stress is by being kind and supporting other people. Research says kindness has many advantages:

  • It makes us happier – when we help others, we feel good.

  • It protects our heart – kindness gives us emotional warmth, releasing oxytocin and nitric oxide, which dilates our blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and helping our hearts stay healthy.

  • It slows the ageing process – oxytocin released decreases the free radicals and inflammation responsible for ageing.

  • It improves relationships – kindness lessens emotional distance.

  • It’s contagious – kindness inspires kindness, so there’s a ripple effect as the good feelings spread exponentially from one person to another.

Acts of kindness from individuals and organisations have been more evident during the pandemic – from kids helping with their siblings to big companies pivoting to meet urgent need by making hand-gel, masks and ventilators instead of their usual products.

What can you do, as an individual?

  • Help a friend or neighbour.
  • Reach out to a colleague who seems quieter than usual and suggest a zoom coffee.
  • Do a random act of kindness.

As a leader/organisation?

  • Decide what your organisation can do to help others. 
  • Determine ways to encourage kindness amongst your staff, and towards others.  
  • Create opportunities for your employees to help/contribute.

3. Connecting/Fostering Connection

In times of trouble, when people are feeling isolated, afraid and vulnerable, a sense of community and connection is vital.

People are finding new and innovative ways to connect – grandparents who never used the internet are now adept at Zoom or are internet sensations in Tik-tok; there have been zoom parties and weddings, You-tube exercise classes, online community choirs.

How can you connect – as an individual?

  • Make a goal to check in with a colleague that you don’t know well – even just a quick WA or IM.
  • Send a WhatsApp to your friends living this alone.
  • Slip a note under your elderly neighbour’s door to make sure they are ok/let them know you are thinking of them.
  • Run a community competition – who is sewing the best face-masks? Growing the biggest sunflower? Volunteer of the month?

What can you do as a leader/organisation?

  • Encourage staff to share their time, feelings and experiences with others.
  • Establish a buddying or mentoring programme.
  • Create an interactive newsletter or social network group.

As humans, we need human contact – and if it isn’t possible physically, it is possible at a safe distance, with masks, or remotely online. Find ways to connect, be sociable, and build society.

To enable us to lead others with resilience, whilst navigating these challenging times ourselves – we also need to exercise self-care.

Self-care: Key to replenishing your reserves

Self-care is much bigger than face masks and bubble baths (although that can be part of your self-care!). It is about doing what you need to do to be the best version of yourself, to show up the way you want to show up in the various roles you play. It is about prioritizing the things and people that you care about. Hence self-care begins with you and is important for you as an individual and for you as a leader. If you haven’t already, take a moment to think about what are you currently doing to practice self-care? 

As we lead we need think about replenishing our personal and leadership reserves. Luthans and Morgan (2017) note that our personal resources, sometimes referred to as our ‘psychological capital’ or PsyCap consists of four resources that individuals, teams, and organizations needs in order to navigate change: Hope, Optimism, Resilience, and Efficacy – HERO for short. Bakker and Leiter (2010) highlight that in additional to building these reserves it is also important to build our leadership reserves or those related to contextual resources that support our leadership – like autonomy, social support, coaching, and organisational climate. We need to attend to both – here we are going to focus on your personal reserves.

To replenish your reserves, you need to practise self-care. You can’t fill up anyone else’s water glass from an empty jug. Leaders need to attend to themselves first, but they often forget. In my coaching practice, leadership clients tell me they are ‘too busy’ for self-care. So I developed some strategies for replenishment  that are very quick and easy to achieve, yet they give great returns.

These four activities are just a few you can do quickly, every day. Each one provides self-care in a minute!

1. Celebrating your superpowers

At the end of your work day, when you are ready to close down your computer, grab a post-it and ask yourself:

  • What superpower am I most proud of using today? E.g. the influence I exercised in convincing my adolescent to vacuum the living room; my coaching skills as I helped my direct report find a solution to a challenge she was facing; my creative powers in concocting that surprisingly tasty one-pot meal out of bread, mustard, and potatoes because there wasn’t much in the house (and yes this is a real example from a client!!!).
  • Write your superpower down on a post-it and attach it to your computer so you can start the next day reminded of one of your superpowers.

This simple and quick practice positively frames your day by celebrating one of your superpowers and it takes less than a minute!

2. Sending something nice

Let’s tap into positivity, kindness and connection by writing something nice and sending it to someone.

  • Think of something nice to share with someone – it could be something you appreciate about them, an inspirational quote to share, or a simple ‘I am thinking of you.’
  • Physically or electronically write it out
  • Give it/send it to them.

Again, something that can be done in under a minute.

3. Practising acceptance – not comparison

We’ve all heard the famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt: ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. As we strive to connect, often through social media, visiting certain sites that feature shiny, happy people ‘doing it all – perfectly’ can provoke feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in some people. Try this:

  • Take a break from Social Media (try a day, or if this is too much, a half-day)
  • Transform Teddy R’s quote into an acceptance mantra: ‘I embrace myself for who I am’ or ‘I accept myself as a beautiful work of art’
  • The next time you head to that site, make sure you have your new mantra in mind.

4. Saying and doing ‘no’

You cannot say yes to everything. Saying ‘yes’ too many times harms not only you, but your work and health.

Do this, each morning:

  • Decide – what shall I NOT do, today? (schedule a third yoga class, send another reminder to my team to do x, change the oil in my car).
  • Record it on a post-it or piece of notepaper.
  • Tear it up and throw it away.
  • Don’t do whatever it was.
  • Feel satisfied by your achievement.

Here you are bringing intentionality to your day as you consciously begin to manage your time and energy.

These are quick and easy practices that you can add to your self-care tool kit. Practising self-care builds your resilience – and allows you to model positive practices for those you influence and lead.

As Maya Angelou said: As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.’ This is a great reminder of the importance of taking care of ourselves and others. It also captures the essence of what it means to be the kind of leader we need now and the kind of leader we want moving forward into the future.

If you are interested in more leadership resources, please feel free to download my ‘Leadership Self-Refection and Action Worksheet’ as well as other learning and leadership resources.

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